independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Trap sees side stroll to win in low-key 'contest'

Esperanca 1 Ireland 3

IT'S a sleepy time of the year here in Lagos. The main excitement in the small tourist city yesterday was when a dog obediently, if somewhat unexpectedly, sauntered across a pedestrian crossing on a busy road, bringing traffic to a shuddering halt.

Come June and July, the bars and restaurants here will be heaving, but there's no such excitement at this time. The calm before the storm, perhaps.

There are parallels with Giovanni Trapattoni's tenure in charge of Ireland, with last night's joust with Esperanca De Lagos in front of a smattering of spectators in sharp contrast with the frenzy that will surround Saturday's game with Serbia and the fanfare building up to the World Cup qualifiers in September.

Unlike Sunday's first training game of this trip with Portimonense, this was effectively an exercise to stretch the legs and not much more. Poor old Esperanca are an extremely weak entity, with a local waiter earlier detailing their fall from grace -- they formerly competed in the Portuguese second division but now they are effectively in a regional league. He was one of the few people in the locality who seemed aware of the match.

The crowd was mainly made up of Irish holidaymakers and family members of the squad, including Wigan boss Steve Bruce, who was in relaxed mood and posing for photographs while watching his son Alex start once again in the heart of the Irish defence.

Rather than make sweeping changes, Trapattoni opted to start with seven of those players who lined out from the outset against Portimonense with Joe Murphy, Glenn Whelan, Darren Potter and Andy Keogh the newcomers.

Danger

Within nine minutes, it was clear that this game was a drastically uneven contest. The locals had diced with danger on three occasions before Duff's corner to outside the area was volleyed first time by Whelan, whose strike took a heavy deflection off Uriel past the hapless Toco in goals.

Compared to Sunday, Trap didn't have too much to get wound up about, standing relatively impassively by his standards next to the dugout. If anything, he looked more ponderous than usual in the first half, frequently chatting with his assistant Marco Tardelli.

Liam Brady certainly seems keen to have a presence on the touchline as well, raising from his seat at one point to loudly admonish Kevin Doyle for refusing to release the ball earlier; a theme their manager had referred to in his assessment of some bad habits which Irish players share.

The 69-year-old did have something to clap about just past the half-hour mark, however, when the recently transfer-listed Potter burst through midfield and chipped the unlucky Toco to double the advantage. Toco was getting far more of a workout than his opposite number Murphy, although the Scunthorpe keeper's vocal nature was audible from the stands as silence reigned off the pitch.

Esperanca duo Filipe Borges and Noel came out of the tunnel for the second half like men on a mission, but with a different motivation, as they approached Trap to pose for a photo before the restart.

Maybe they reckoned they'd be too tired at the final whistle to look respectable as their legs wilted in the second half, but not before another moment which should remind Trap that he cannot go into more serious tests with such an inexperienced rearguard.

Esperanca celebrated feverishly when they pulled a goal back, with their captain Marco Carmo capitalising on hesitancy to poke home from close range in the 52nd minute. Three minutes later, though, Ireland restored their two-goal lead when Duff cut a swathe through the defence like he once did at the highest level, before cutting the ball back for Keogh, who did the rest.

In fact, if it wasn't for the hopelessness for the opposition, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the Duff of old was back as he went on a number of mazy runs in the minutes that followed before being withdrawn just after the hour mark.

By that point, Trapattoni had given a run-out to the remaining members of the 22-man squad who hadn't yet seen action, with Owen Garvan in for Potter at the break, and Kevin Foley and controversial choice Kieren Westwood (whose inclusion was yesterday deemed a 'piss-take' by Bohemians keeper Brian Murphy) introduced for Stephen Kelly and Murphy respectively.

Also entering the fray was Stephen McPhail, who only arrived earlier in the afternoon after captaining Cardiff in Saturday's FA Cup Final at Wembley, but got 34 minutes on the park as he bids to rekindle his international career.

Ireland -- Murphy (Westwood 62), Kelly (Foley 58), McShane, Bruce, Delaney (Miller 80); Duff (Scannell 62), Potter (Garvan 45), Whelan (Rowlands 74), Hunt (McPhail 56); Doyle (Long 60), Keogh (Murphy 68).

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